'Thousands' of Google Employees Expected to Walk Out Over Handling of Sexual Harassment Cases

By Melanie Ehrenkranz on at

“Thousands” of employees at Google offices around the world are expected to participate in a “women’s walk” protest today in response to the company’s mishandling of sexual harassment and other tensions within the technology giant.

Employees from more than 60 percent of Google offices worldwide will participate, organisers for the walkout told Gizmodo in an email. Google maintains 23 offices in the U.S., three in Canada, and more than 50 others around the globe.

BuzzFeed first reported on the plans for the walkout on Monday, stating that “a group of more than 200 engineers” at the company were organising the protest. According to the latest approximation, the number of estimated participants has ballooned dramatically over the last few days.

Last week, the New York Times reported that Google had kept quiet the sexual misconduct allegations of several executives at the company. One of those executives, Android creator Andy Rubin, is reported to have received $90 million (around £70 million) upon his departure in 2014 following an investigation into sexual misconduct. Rubin has since denied any wrongdoing, the Times reports, and claims the size of his exit package was “wildly exaggerated.”

A second accused executive also reportedly received millions of dollars upon his departure, while another was allowed to keep his job within the company.

Thursday’s walkout is largely in response to these recently illuminated findings. However, long-boiling tensions within Google have percolated into the public sphere over the past year.

In August 2017, Gizmodo first revealed a 10-page memo written by now-former Google engineer James Damore in which he argued that fewer women become engineers because of inherent biological differences from men, sparking outrage inside and outside the company.

Internal unrest erupted again early this year after Google’s workforce learned of a contract under the Pentagon’s Project Maven programme to build artificial intelligence for deciphering footage captured by military drones. After several employees resigned in protest over the program, Google said it would not renew its contract for Project Maven and released guidelines for the use of AI.

More recently, employees have protested Google’s plan to build a censored search product for China.

“For me, it feels like everything’s hit a boiling point,” a Google employee told Vanity Fair. “First there was pushback to Project Maven and the China search project. The frustration reached a new level with the Times story.”

Walkout organisers told Gizmodo that they have issued a number of demands of the company, including pay equality, a public transparency report on sexual harassment within the company, a company-wide policy on sexual harassment, and an empowered chief diversity officer.

The end to some forced arbitration is also a key issue for organisers. A 2015 Google software engineer contract provided to Gizmodo included a mandatory arbitration clause, including cases of discrimination and harassment. It also prohibited employees from pursuing class-action lawsuits.

Following the Times report on Rubin, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a company memo that some 48 employees had been fired for sexual misconduct, including 13 senior employees. Since then, he has expressed support for Thursday’s walkout.

“Yesterday, we let Googlers know that we are aware of the activities planned for Thursday and that employees will have the support they need if they wish to participate,” Pichai said in a statement emailed to Gizmodo on Wednesay evening. “Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes going forward. We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

Today's walkout is set to take place at 11:10am local time for each office, beginning with its Tokyo office earlier this morning.

Featured image: Getty